City develops plan to fix fire hydrants in town, yet faces delays 

Staff photo by Maisie Crow / After the Judd fire earlier this year, new attention has been given to the state of the hydrants in Marfa, and “out of service” plates were installed on faulty hydrants across town.

MARFA –– The city administration has developed a plan to fix and replace a number of fire hydrants in town following a report from The Big Bend Sentinel that showed that at least 11 hydrants were either malfunctioning or inoperable. While some hydrants only need some minor maintenance, others are to undergo specialized repairs or are slated to be completely replaced. 

There are some setbacks in the plan though, as the public works department needs to secure funding for the purchase of new hydrants, and its employees need to be trained on how to troubleshoot and repair the hydrants. 

“There’s a few of them that have to be replaced completely,” said Chuck Salgado, the city’s water utilities supervisor. “I want to ball park it at two or three that need to be completely replaced. One of them is old. The other one we believe the stem is broken on it.”

As The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported, one hydrant, on the corner of Galveston and Ridge, is from the 1940s –– over 70 years old. Records show that back in 2005, a company surveyed the status of all the hydrants in town and, at the time, recommended the city replace the top of that 1940s hydrant as it was hard to operate and the fire department needed an adapter piece to tap into it. 

“That one is from the forties. That one is going to be replaced,” Salgado said. 

Yet before the hydrants can be replaced, the public works department has to wait for the city to approve its 2021-2022 fiscal budget, which has to be finalized and passed by September 30. 

“We’re going to order them as soon as the new budget kicks in,” said Salgado. “[The city] bumped our supplies for the water department up to $25,000 for the year so we should have plenty of room.” Mayor Manny Baeza confirmed to The Big Bend Sentinel that funds are to be allocated for these new hydrants in the coming year, saying, “There is money in next year’s budget to replace the hydrants that need repair.” 

Another issue stalling the fire-hydrant-overhaul plan: water works employees will have to undergo training in order to learn how to make certain repairs. “The ones that aren’t going to be replaced but that need repairs, we’re waiting on the training,” Salgado said. “They’re going to show us how to take them apart and do repairs on them.”

The crew was set to attend a training in August through the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service in August, but that has since been postponed to December. 

As The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported, City Manager Mandy Roane confirmed that many of the issues with the hydrants have gone unaddressed in the past. In the past year and half, none of them have been repaired, Roane said. 

“Our former public works director [Jeff Boyd] was given the list of faulty hydrants in 2019, but did not conduct repairs. Additionally, repairs weren’t conducted in 2020,” Roane said in a previous interview. “With so much shut down because of COVID and public works being short-staffed, they weren’t able to complete them.”

Salgado –– who recently came into his position –– said that he doesn’t believe that the public works department had been repairing the hydrants either. “I’m pretty sure it’s never been done. As long as I’ve been here I’ve never seen them done,” he said, adding that the department didn’t even have the proper tools to conduct the repairs, much less the training. 

While the public works department waits for its scheduled training, it has been lubing up hydrants with oil to ensure they are not stuck shut when needed most. “A few of them that were on the inspection list that we went and tested were real tough to open, so we put hydrant oil to get it to open up smoother,” Salgado said. “But that’s as far as we’ve done on the maintenance is that we’ve used the hydrant oil to get them easier to open.”

“Usually you have to do that about every year and put hydrant oil [on the hydrants] so that way the shaft, once you need to open it, it’ll turn easily. It won’t be getting jammed up or anything like that. It won’t be rough,” Salgado said, adding that his crew will be oiling the hydrants more regularly going forward. “We’re going to start oiling them on a yearly basis. We’re going to try and do it right after the fire department does their flushing –– that way we will know exactly which ones need it.”

Salgado did say that his crew was able to figure out why the hydrant across the street from the Judd Architecture building wasn’t working on the morning of the fire. The hydrant had previously been disconnected from the city’s water supply due to a faulty piece of equipment. The flat valve at the bottom was damaged, causing the hydrant to leak water. “And so what [Boyd] did is that [he] shut the valve in front of the hydrant to kill the hydrant completely,” Salgado said. 

That hydrant, Salgado said, is still not operational. He said, “That one is just going to need the training to get it repaired,” but added that in the event of a fire, he could reconnect the hydrant to the city’s water supply.